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Supreme Court aligns with trial court in dog-attack case

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The Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed a trial court judge’s finding that the city of Evansville and its animal control division are not liable in a dog attack that seriously injured a boy.

Siding with Vanderburgh Circuit Judge Carl A. Heldt, the Supreme Court found that the Indiana Court of Appeals was in error when it reversed Judge Heldt’s decision.

In the case of Misty D. Davis v. Animal Control - City of Evansville, et al., No. 82S01-1102-CV-77, Misty Davis filed a complaint against the city and its animal control division in 2007, two years after a Rottweiler attacked her six-year-old son. Davis claimed that animal control “was well aware of this dog’s violent propensities based upon numerous prior attacks by this dog,” yet failed to protect her son from the animal.

The trial court found that the city defendants were entitled to law enforcement immunity under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, which provides immunity to governmental entities for any loss resulting from the failure to enforce a law. Davis appealed that decision, claiming law enforcement immunity did not apply because the complaint is not based on the defendants’ failure to enforce the law but rather on their failure to follow their own procedures for determining whether an animal is dangerous as set forth in the Evansville Animal Control Ordinance. The Court of Appeals majority agreed. Judge James Kirsch dissented.

In reversing the trial court’s decision, the COA relied on the Supreme Court decision in Mullin v. Municipal City of South Bend, 639 N.E.2d 278 (Ind. 1994), limited on other grounds, Benton v. City of Oakland City, 721 N.E.2d 224, 231 (Ind. 1999). In that case, the Supreme Court considered whether the failure of an emergency dispatcher to send an ambulance to a house fire despite a department policy stating that medics would be dispatched to all fire calls where someone was thought to be inside fell within the parameters of law enforcement immunity.

In Mullin, the Supreme Court concluded that the scope of  enforcement is limited to activities in which a governmental entity or its employees compel or attempt to compel the obedience of another to laws, rules or regulations, or sanction or attempt to sanction a violation thereof. Because the dispatcher in Mullin was not doing any of those things, the claim was not barred by the law enforcement provision.

“This was not the correct way to apply Mullin,” the Supreme Court stated of the COA reversal in Davis. “Mullin did not hold that there was no law enforcement immunity because city employees did not follow procedures; it held that there was no law enforcement immunity because in responding to a fire emergency, the city was not engaged in law enforcement.”

The Supreme Court stated that a dog with the same name had attacked someone before Davis’ son was attacked, but the owner’s address and name were different in both cases; therefore, it’s not certain whether the dog previously picked up and held temporarily by the animal control division is the same one that attacked Davis’ son.

Holding that the plaintiff's claim does constitute an allegation that the city defendants failed to enforce the law, the Supreme Court ruled Davis is not entitled to collect damages from the defendants.

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  1. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  2. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  3. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  4. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  5. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

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